The War of the Grand Alliance

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The War of the Grand Alliance

Battle of Beachy Head.

King Charles II’s brother, James, Duke of York, succeeded him in 1685. The Royal Navy remained an efficient force during the reign of King James II (1685-88). King James was a Catholic and an ally of King Louis XIV of France. England was divided into two political factions. These factions were known as Whigs or liberals and Tories or conservatives. The Tory or conservative faction was loyal to James. The Whigs or liberal faction preferred the Protestant Prince William of Orange. Prince William was Charles I’s grandson and married to King James II’s daughter, Mary. In the Revolution of 1688 William and Mary were invited to become joint sovereigns. William landed at Torbay on 5 November 1688. James fled to France. The Royal Navy had been prevented by the weather from intercepting William’s mainly Dutch fleet. Many naval officers preferred William and Mary and the Navy accepted the change of regime.

King Louis XIV of France was already at war with the Emperor
Leopold I, Sweden and Spain (their alliance was known as the League of
Augsburg). These countries opposed his aggressive actions on the mainland of
Europe. Prince William, as sovereign of the Netherlands, was an active opponent
of King Louis XIV. King Louis supported the deposed King James by sending an
expedition to Ireland in 1689. An indecisive naval action took place between an
English fleet and a French fleet off Bantry Bay on 1 May 1689. This led to an
actual declaration of war by Louis XIV. The alliance against King Louis became
known as the Grand Alliance. The French navy had been strengthened by the
efforts of King Louis’ minister, Colbert. It could send more powerful warships
to sea than the combined Dutch and English fleets.

In 1690 there was a threat of a French invasion to restore
King James. The French fleet under the Comte de Tourville actually outnumbered
the combined Dutch and English fleet when they met off Beachy Head on 30 June
1690. The combined Dutch and English fleet under Lord Torrington was upwind and
approached from the north-east. The Dutch formed the van squadron of 22 ships.
They opened fire at 9 am having turned parallel to the French van. Torrington

About eight I ordered the signal for battle, to prevent
the Dutch steering to the southward, as I did; for by the eighth Article of the
Fighting Instructions when that signal is made, the headmost ships of our fleet
are to steer away with the headmost ships of the enemy.

The centre of the French line sagged to leeward. Torrington
allowed his own centre squadron to edge away to larboard. The Dutch in the van
and the English rear squadron were both outnumbered and in danger of being
“doubled”. By 1 pm the French were doubling on the Dutch. Several
ships in the English rear squadron were heavily damaged and had to be towed out
of the line of battle. At 3 pm the wind fell. By 5 pm the allies anchored. The
French drifted away to leeward. The next day they followed up the retreating
allies cautiously, allowing the damaged allied ships to get away.

Torrington had to face a court-martial. He was acquitted,
claiming that his action had prevented an invasion. Admiral Edward Russell was
appointed commander-in-chief of the allied fleet. In 1691 the French fleet
sailed against merchant shipping in the western approaches to the English
Channel. Both the Dutch and the English built up their fleets. In 1692 King
Louis XIV supported another invasion force to restore the exiled King James II.
This was assembling on the Cotentin peninsula where it awaited escort by the
French fleet under de Tourville. The allied fleet heavily outnumbered the
French squadron in the Channel. Another French squadron sailed from Toulon but
was scattered by a storm. After Russell’s captains had assured him of their
loyalty to King William III and Queen Mary, the allied fleet sailed from St
Helen’s on 18 May 1692.

The Battle of La Hogue 19-23 June 1692

Richard Allyn was aboard HMS Centurion, 50 as a chaplain.
HMS Centurion was in Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s division of Sir Ralph Delavall’s
Blue (rear) squadron. Allyn:

Thursday, May 19, 1692. At three this Morning our Scouts
made the Signal for discovering the Enemy; so the Admiral presently made the
Signal to draw into a Line of Battle, which we soon did, and made clear Ships.
It being foggy, we in the Fleet did not see them until seven, when we made them
to be about Fifty Sail bearing down upon us in a Line with a small Gale about
the West-south-west. About eleven we began to engage. The French Admiral came
within point blank of our Admiral, who with his Squadron lay by to receive him.
Mr. Russel as soon as he saw Tourville bring to, gave him three Cheers, which
was answered by a Volley of Small Shot from Tourville, and was soon returned
with a Broad-Side from our Admiral. The Vice-Admiral of the French White
engaged Sir Ra. Delavall. In a trice we were so buried in Fire and Smoke, and
had such hot Service our selves, that we could not see or mind what others did.
Between four and five, word was brought to the Captain on the Quarter-Deck that
there was above Seven foot Water in the Hold, and that notwithstanding both
Pumps were kept going, yet the Water increased ; and besides this, that the
Powder Room was full of Water, and the Powder Barrels all swimming about, which
was occasioned by a great Shot that came into the Carpenter’s Store-room. The
Captain sent word of this misfortune to Sir Ra. Delavail our Flag, who ordered
him to hasten out of the Line and careen the Ship, and stop the Leaks, which we
did. Some of our Pow- der-Barrels were so tight that the Powder in them was not
at all damnifyed, so that out of Eighty Barrels we saved about Forty. Between
six and seven, having made a bad shift to stop our Shot-holes, we set sail to
recover into our station. About five the Wind came up about the South-east, and
then the French tack’d and made away from us as fast as they could. But Sir
Cloudesly Shovel and part of his Division being got to the Westward of them
with some of the Blue, took them up and engaged them until nine when they left
off and drove to and fro on the tide, there being little or no wind. We lost in
the Engagement seven Men, and had Eighteen wounded; most of them having their
Legs shattered, or shot off above knee. Trie Cook, James Duell, was one of the
first that fell. Soon after half of poor Webber’s Face was shot away;
notwithstanding which he lived two days, and almost all the time kept singing.
A Shot came through my Cabin, which killed one Kern, a Plymouth Man. A Gun on
the Quarter Deck split, which killed two, and wounded three, one of which was
Mr. Raymond, whose leg was much shattered, and is since cut off. Our Long-boat
was sunk at our stern. Most of the damage we received was from the Vice-Admiral
of the White, who, finding the Sovereign’s side too warm, tack’d astern and
revenged himself upon us. At ten a great Ship blew up, which we suppose to be
one of the French. We had it very foggy all night, so that, we lost sight of
the Enemy.

Sir Cloudesley Shovell described:

Thursday being the 19th of May at Daylight, the Wind at
South-west by West, a fine gale, and hazy weather, we saw our Scouts to
Windward making the signal of the Enemy’s approaching, and at broad day saw the
French Fleet to the Westward of us standing towards us. We soon got into a Line
of Battle, and were soon prepared and lay by to receive them. We had so little
Wind that it was about eleven o’ clock before we joined Battle, which was begun
in the Center of the Fleet. For Tourville in the Royal Sun (a glorious Ship of
106 Guns) stood directly for our Admiral Mr. Russel, then on board the
Britannia, a Ship little inferior to the French General either in Glory or
Strength. Here the Fight begun; and I will do the French that Justice, that is,
their Admiral and all his Squadron, as to declare that I never saw any come so
near before they began to fight in my life. I will leave the two chief Admirals
with their whole Squadrons, it may be, in as hot Engagement as ever was fought,
and take a little notice of what the other part of our Enemy’s Fleet did.

First the Dutch who led our Van, being about Twenty- five
Line of Battle Ships were attack’d by Amphreville, who commanded the French
White and Blue Divisions which consisted of about Fifteen Ships, whereof five
or six were Three-deck Ships, and none had under Sixty Guns. Amphreville seeing
himself overmatched in number, fought the Dutch at that distance, that very
little Damage was done on either side.

The French Blue that was commanded by Gabarel, finding
they could not stretch our Blue, joined close with Tourville’s Squadron, and
had their Station and share in the Battle, all but seven of them with our Rear
Admiral of the Red.

In this Posture, Affairs stood about two Hours, by which
time the Britannia had so beaten the French Sun, that I saw when he could not
make use of his Main-top-sail, it being shot away, he let down his Main-sail,
and tack’d from the Britannia. This tacking, with the Wind shifting from the
South-west by West, to the West-north-west, brought the French Admiral a
farther distance from the Britannia, than could be recovered the whole day; and
from the French Admiral’s first Tacking I reckon they began to run; he ever
after taking every little advantage to get farther from the Britannia.

Now our Blue happened to be to Leeward of our Line of
Battle when we begun; and about seven or eight of the French Blue which reached
astern of the Rear-Admiral of the Red’s Division had no Ships to fight with,
unless they would bear to Leeward of their Line, therefore had nothing to do.
When the Wind shifted to the West-north-west, as before I took notice of (it
was then about one o’Clock) with this Shift of Wind the Rear-Admiral of the Red
kept his Luff; and with six of his Division and his Fireships weathered
Tourville and all his Squadron, and broke the French Line, dividing trie French
Blue from the White. But our Blue with this Wind kept their Luff and weathered
the French; upon which the French Vice-Admiral of the Blue, and other five or
fix Ships that were near him, and had never fired a Gun all day set their Sails
and run. Our Rear Admiral of the Blue and his Division fell upon the Admiral of
the French Blue and his Division, but pretended not to hinder their joining the
French Admiral, but exchanged some Shot, and suffered them to bear athwart the
Rear- Admiral of the Red, and join Tourville’s Division.

By this time it was four in the Afternoon, when the Wind
duller’d away, and a small air came Easterly, when Tourville and his Division
with the French Ships near him anchor’d, the Tide setting strong up North-east.
The Rear-Admiral of the Red with that part of his Division that was with him,
also anchored in half shot a-head of him, all but the Sandwich, who drove
through the French as they lay at Anchor, and Captain Hastings in that Pass was

The Rear Admiral of the Red found that Tourville mightily
galled some of his Ships as they lay at Anchor, and there- fore ordered one of
his Fireships to drive athwart Tourville’s Halse. The Tide running very strong,
the Fireship’s Captain did his Duty, but Tourville escaped burning by cutting his
Cable, and towing from the Fireship.

Tourville soon anchored again. All this day hath been
accompanied with Fogs, so that sometimes we have been obliged to leave off
Fighting, though in less than point- blank one of the other. Here we lay at an
Anchor till about eight at Night, at which time our Blue drove amongst the
Rear-Admiral of the Red’s Division; and they together drove through the French
Fleet; so ended the day.

This Evening in driving through the French, three of our
Fireships were burnt, and a great French Ship of three Decks, but whether by
accident or by our Fireships I know not.

The Allies kept up their pursuit of the outnumbered French.
On 20 May, Allyn:

May 20. At four this morning, for every Ship to make the
best of his way after them. We could not see any of them until about nine, when
it cleared up and we discovered them standing to the Westward with all the sail
they could crowd, the Wind Easterly. At this time Dunnose bore North seven
Leagues off. We made the best of our way after them, and at twelve Cape
Barfleur bore South and by West distant about six leagues; and the Enemy was
about three leagues to the Southward of us. The Wind in the Afternoon came
about to the South-West, and we kept plying after them until six, when the Ebb being
done, both Fleets came to all Anchor. Cape de Hague bore from us W. S. W five
leagues off; and the Enemy was about four miles to windward. At twelve we
weighed as they did, and plyed after them all the Ebb; viz. until

May 21. Six this morning; when the Enemy anchored between
Ornay and Cape de Hague in the Race; and we about a League to Leeward of them,
the Wind still South- west. At about sixteen of the Enemy’s Ships drove to lee-
ward of our Fleet, between us, and their own Shore; which our Admiral seeing,
made the Signal for the Fleet to cut and chase; which we did, leaving the
Admiral of the Dutch, and Admiral of our Blue with several Dutch and English
Frigates at Anchor to take care of about fifteen sail of the French at Anchor
in the Race, and about thirteen without it. The General, Vice-Admiral of the
Blue, and Rear of the Red, gave chase to Ten or Twelve sail to the Eastward:
our Flag with his Division chased three of the French into Cheirburg, or
Sheerbrook. About three in the afternoon we anchored off of Cheirburg, having
the Town open, and the three Ships close under the Town. Sir Ralph ordered a
Fire- ship to go in and destroy one of them, which was ashore, and had cut away
his Masts; but they shot away her Boat, and so she returned without execution.
Sir Ralph finding his own Ship too big to venture in within Gun-Shot, hoist- ed
his Flag on board the Saint Alban’s, and went in and battered at the Ships a
little, and came out and anchored again.

On Saturday Morning the 21st, we plainly saw the French
at Anchor in the Race of Alderney, and we had a fine fresh gale at South-west;
but when the Flood came strong, the French, that is, fifteen of them, their
Anchors would not hold, which obliged them to cut and stand to the Eastward
along their shore. Our Admiral did the same with part of the Fleet, that is,
the Dutch and the Admiral of the Blue rid fast to keep their Chace after the
rest of the French that did not drive. Those Ships which cut, followed the
French so close, that the Royal Sun their Admiral, and two other great Ships
run on shoar at Sherbrook, alias Cheirburg, where they were the next day burnt
by Sir Ralph Delavall’s directions. The twelve other kept along shoar, and a
little out of the Ebb-tide, fo that they out-sailed all our Fleet but Sir
Cloudesly Shovel and two or three more.

Sir Cloudesly kept close to them, that is, some-times
within shot, but never fired, that he might not hinder his way. At Night their
ships were got near the Shore not far from La Hogue, where they anchored. Sir
Cloudesly anchored in sight of them, and watched them with his Boats, and rid
fast all night. The next day being Sunday the 22d, the Admiral and the Fleet
came near them, the French haled near the Shore, and pretended to defend their
Ships. Our Ships and Boats were appointed for attacking them, and the Admiral
appointed Sir Cloudesly Shovel to command the Attack, and so we rid quiet that

Almondee was the Dutch Admiral. Allyn:

May 22. Most of our Ships under the Second Rate weighed
at three this morning, and anchored within reach of the Enemy’s Guns, and
exchanged several Shot. At ten Sir Ralph ordered in three Fireships; one on
board her, that yesterday cut her Masts by the Board, which proved to be the
Royal Sun. She fired a great number of Guns at the Fire-Ship but did no great
damage to her. When the Fire- Ship was got so near her that there could be no
thoughts of getting back again, they found that they could not come to lay the
Royal Sun on Board because of the Boats which were by her side to keep them
off, and her Masts which were thrust out for the same purpose. The Captain of
the Fire- ship however set fire to his Ship, and left her floating with the
Tide. The Fire-ship shot astern of the Sun, and no one expected that fire would
do any service. But Providence ordered it so that the Wind and Flame
overpower’d the Tide, and drove her back on the only part of the Royal Sun
where she could be lain on board, viz. on her stern; and so she was burnt,
having several hundreds of Men on board when she was set on fire; but Tourville
went ashore yester- day in his Boat. She was a Ship of about 108 Guns, and by
all relation as goodly a Ship as ever was seen. Another Fire- ship went aboard
another Three-deck’d-ship, called the Conquerant, and burnt her without much
opposition. When the Men in the third Ship had seen two of their Consorts thus
burn, they got away as fast as they could from her, and left her to be fired by
our Boats. The third Fire-ship which was sent in run aground, and was fired by
her own Com- pany, that she might not be left for the Enemy. All day we had
good weather and fine Westerly Gales. At one in the afternoon we weighed, and
sailed from Cheirburg and joined Sir John Ashby and Admiral Almondee, and at
eight at night anchored four leagues from Cape de Hague, which bore

May 23. Sir John Ashby and the Dutch Admiral having left
off their Chace before we came up with them, we all together at six this
morning weighed and stood to the East- ward. At ten or eleven we discovered our
Fleet about two leagues to the Northward of La Hogue, and at two we anchored by
them, they having chaced into La Hogue thirteen sail of the French. In the
afternoon Vice-Admiral Rook, and about Ten sail of Third and Fourth Rates, by
the Admiral’s orders weighed, and went in almost within shot of the Ships, but
the Pilots would not carry them farther in by reason of the Shoal Water,
besides several Banks which are on that Coast. TheVice-Admiral shifted his Flag
in the Eagle, and besides the Ships that were with him, he had all the Barges
and Pinnaces of the Fleet to attend him, well mann’d and arm’d. In the evening
he sent in a Fire-ship and all the Boats to destroy the Six Ships that lay
outmost. The Fire-ship ran ashore, but was got off the next day. As soon as the
French saw our Boats with a Fire-ship coming near them, they all quitted their
Ships, being afraid of being served as the poor Fellows were at Cheirburg the
day before. Our Boat was the first that got aboard any of the Ships. Lieutenant
Paul entered a Three-Deck Ship, and found no creature aboard, so he ordered the
Boats Crew to cut Chips and lay them together in order to set her on Fire,
which was soon done. My Lord Danby burnt his face as he was blowing Tow and
Oakam, &c. to set another Ship on fire, some Gun-powder taking fire near
him. The whole mob of Boats went from Ship to Ship untill they burnt the six,
notwithstanding they were within less than Musket shot of the Town, a small
Fort of about six or eight Guns. But as the Ships were burning, their Guns
which were all loaden went off, and the Bullets flying all round, so disordered
all the Men on the Shore, that they quitted their Posts.

May 24. This morning all the Boats and Fire-ships were
again ordered in to destroy Seven Sail more, that were got at least a mile
above the Town. The Fire-ships ran ashore, and not being able to get off were
burnt by our own Men; but though the Fire-ships met with such bad success, yet
our Boats met with better, and did execution even beyond expectation, for they
not only burnt the seven Men of War, but also at least Twenty vessels supposed
to be Transport Ships designed for England, and every thing they met with so
far as they went. In the whole Action (both overnight and this morning) we lost
not ten Men. They plainly saw King James’s Camp and Standard near La Hogue from
their Boats. By Noon our Boats were all returned with French Colours flying as
Trophies, which occasioned this mistake: in the evening the Admiral sent his
Boat towards the Shore with a Flag of Truce, to know what they would have done
with the Prisoners, and whether they would have them put ashore or not; but the
People on the Shore thinking the White Flag was designed only to insult over
them, as was done in the Morning, fired at the Boat, and would not let her come
near the Land.

May 25. But one Captain Macdonnell was sent off with a
Flag of Truce to excuse it. This Morning at eight we and the whole Fleet came
to sail with small Gales between the East and South-east. At twelve Cape Barfleur
bore North- west by West three or four leagues off. At two in the after- noon
the Admiral of the Blue, a Vice and Rear-Admiral of the Dutch, with about
thirty Sail anchored, being left by the General to destroy three or four more
of the French, which we heard were ashore farther to the Eastward, whilst all
the rest stood to the Northward.

May 26. Moderate Easterly Gales and thick Weather. At
four this evening we all anchored at Saint Helen’s. May 29. Admiral of the Blue
and all we left behind, came hither, having done nothing. June 4. We and all
the Ships that had been much damaged in the Engagement, ran into Spithead to
refit, and this day our Carpenters began to work.

After the Battle of La Hogue the French resorted to the
guerre de corse, cruising against merchant shipping. The French won battles on
land at Fleurus (1690), Steenkerke (1692) and Neerwinden (1693). The War of the
Grand Alliance finally ended at the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. On the American
continent the conflict was known as King William’s War.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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